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Book Review : Modi -The Man of the Moment

Modi has a historic opportunity to do what for whatever reason Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh could not in relation to Pakistan

Shireen-tar az hikayate-e-maa neest qissa-e
Tareekh-e-roozgar sarapa navishta em.

No story is as sweet as mine,
I have written all history from beginning to end.

MEMOIRS are the passion of the times. Crafted into a book, they benefit all—writers, readers, publishers and booksellers. Reminiscing about one’s life story during one’s fragile, concluding years must feel cathartic, giving some meaning to otherwise meaningless years. Readers benefit too in many ways. At the lowest, sordid level, they get the sort of pleasure a Peeping Tom gets by looking into someone’s bedroom through the keyhole, though a memoir must be salacious enough for that which most of ours—unlike those of the English, in particular—are not. At other levels, one may read other people’s recollections out of curiosity or empathy, or to learn lessons from the past, or to seek inspiration and new insights. It is simply human nature to be interested in other humans. For the publishers and booksellers, memoirs are steady business, especially those of bureaucrats and politicians. Until some years ago, this genre was popular mainly in the West but other cultures have caught up fast during the last some years. In India and Pakistan, writing and reading of memoirs have both become a passionate pursuit and a remunerative pastime of late.

The sheer size and weight of Kasuri’s book is off-putting. Such thick books are a curse on mankind, especially in the time of Twitter. But this one may be excused, for it is not just a memoir but almost a history of contemporary Pakistan—a real tareekh-e-roozgar, as the Persian poet has said. I do not remember who that poet is but his verse is absolutely appropriate here. Anyone with the slightest interest in the country’s past, present and future will find Kasuri’s account immensely interesting. He opens a large window on Pakistan’s political, diplomatic, military, intelligence and terror establishment. Yes, terror too because terror and terrorism have over the last some decades grown to be an essential and an inseparable part of the Pakistani establishment; for terror is everywhere in Pakistan—in its cities, towns, mosques and madrassas and all along its borders. With so much terrorism and so many terrorists inside the country, how can terror not have a seat in the very heart of its establishment? Kasuri has not shied away from acknowledging this. Actually, he has been fairly blunt in admitting that terrorism is and has for long years been an instrument of state policy in Pakistan. He is honest and equally blunt about the growing Islamisation of Pakistan from the time of Zia onwards which offers him an occasion to dwell on the growing intolerance and aggression of the Hindu extremists in India too. He cannot be wronged on that count, particularly after what the Shiv Sainiks did at the time of his recent book release in Mumbai.

Kasuri’s book sounds authoritative, for it is the first firsthand contemporary account of an executor of foreign policy and not a mere secondhand compilation of events by an academic researcher or an analysis by a backroom strategist. He narrates crucial happenings of momentous years of his foreign office years, talks of the character and conduct of key players of his time and unhesitatingly tells innermost details of quite some confidential activities as also of the few diplomatic faux pas that had an upsetting effect on the events.

A large part of the book understandably deals with India and Kashmir as any book by a high-level diplomat or intelligence operative from either of the two countries must. Kasuri highlights the working not only of Pakistan’s foreign office but also the culture, character and outlook of its military men and masters and their relations and dealings with the politicians of the country. The book can be a bit tedious at times with details not everybody can be interested in but overall it makes for interesting reading. Kasuri gives inside details of some crucial events and amusing episodes that were otherwise known only disjointedly to outsiders. However, one should not read the book for any stunning revelations but mainly for the cogent case it makes for continued dialogue between Pakistan and India. Kasuri‘s account—as also that of Dulat—shows that, man to man, a Pakistani officer in all departments of modern statecraft is no different from his Indian counterpart in character, conduct, intelligence or dedication. This is not surprising considering that they both come from the same stock, similar backgrounds, share a composite Hindu-Persian-Turkish-Mughal-British heritage and a common cultural outlook fashioned during the last many centuries.

Several times in the book, Kasuri speaks of his father who found no contradiction between his Islamic faith and his heroes like Porus and Ranjit Singh which sentiment is reciprocated in India by people who hold Bulle Shah, Faiz or Noorjahan in as much esteem. This is because though India and Pakistan have split as nation states, they have not yet diverged culturally very far. But the atmosphere is changing fast on both sides. In Pakistan, open State support and sponsorship have accelerated the change through the years, as acknowledged by Kasuri in the book. But the atmosphere is changing for the worse in India too. Once the older generation that Kasuri has spoken of passes away completely in the two countries, they will begin to diverge further away from each other and with much greater acceleration too. Maybe the divergence will free the future generations from the hangover of the past and make them wonder, why the hell have we been sore with each other for so long! Come on now, friends from both sides, let us sort out these cobwebbed tangles of the past quickly and be friends in the future. That sounds idyllic. There is little evidence at the moment from either side that this divergence will move along that line. Hence, Kasuri’s anxiety for continued talks between the two countries! There are today people on both sides who believe in giving a tit for every tat to the other side and carrying on G3/G4 covert wars to bleed, shatter, disorient, defame and fragmentise the other. Such people say that as this will be a long war, we should, instead of trying to duck it, prepare our people for a long haul like the European 100 years’ war. There are people on both sides who think nothing of a nuclear conflict to settle things once and for all. Certainly, they are not many and not in sensitive or powerful positions at least, but they are around and do wield a considerable influence on rabid and vociferous fringe activists.

Kasuri and Dulat, both high-level operatives of their respective countries, share much in common. They both feel Musharraf and Vajpayee could have sealed a historic deal on Kashmir at Agra but for the hardliners like RSS-backed Indian Home Minister LK Advani

I am sure the saner people on both sides must be of a different opinion. It is not that they will want or agree to give up covert ways or military alternatives fully or suddenly but only that they may be better at appreciating the value of continuing talks even as they keep pursuing covert operations, for that is what statecraft is about. The emphasis on one or the other may change from time to time but overall no one can reject the route of talks for ever or in its entirety.

I feel tempted to recall a conclusion endorsed by most of the big-time spies from both the eastern and the western camps at the end of the Cold War. Sometime soon after the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite communist states, a conference of the spymasters of the two blocs was called in Berlin to assess how much their covert activities had advanced the interests of their countries. Surprisingly, they all said “very little or marginally at best”. What led to the collapse of the authoritarian communist regime in the former USSR was not espionage or the proxy wars, or the excess of nuclear weapons, but simply the explosion in information in the east about the life and culture of the west—increased citizen travel between the two blocs, constant visits of the politicians, scientists, artists, writers, bureaucrats, journalists, and so on, which spread information in the Soviet bloc that economic and social change was possible even with democracy, free press, rule of law, liberalism and mutual tolerance. In the end, what won the Cold War was simply spread of information.

That is in sum and substance the message of Kasuri’s book too. He emphasises the negotiations route, people-to-people exchange, cultural shuffling, trade relations and such and similar other measures for resolving the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir. It is not surprising that the long-time Indian IB and R&AW Kashmir hand, AS Dulat, also comes to the same conclusion in his excellently written book. Dulat’s book is the best read of the three books listed here. It is informative, insightful and even amusing at times.

It cannot be just a coincidence that Dulat seems to arrive at a similar conclusion on Kashmir as does Kasuri on India and Pakistan. He too is convinced that the only policy that will work in Kashmir and be acceptable to the world at large today is talking it out with the Kashmiri people and their representatives—politicians, peaceniks, militants, zealots, civilians, pro-Indians, pro-Pakistanis, Azadiwallahs, one and all, and with Pakistan too. Dulat’s book is all about Kashmiris and Kashmir where he spent most of his working years in the Intelligence Bureau and with which he was concerned the most, both as the R&AW director and afterwards as Vajpayee’s handyman. His book is peopled with all sorts of characters from Kashmir who were all so often in and out of his doors throughout his career. Most of them must be well-known to everyone with the slightest interest in Kashmir affairs. Some have disappeared from the scene. Others have faded out. Those who survive look pitiable at best; yes, even the villainous ones.

KASURI and Dulat, both high-level operatives of their respective countries, share much in common. They both feel Musharraf and Vajpayee could have sealed a historic deal on Kashmir at Agra but for the hardliners like RSS-backed Indian Home Minister LK Advani. They both think Manmohan Singh’s failure to sign a deal with Musharraf was another regrettable miss. And, what is, perhaps, most important is that they both strongly feel that the only way forward for India and Pakistan on Kashmir is the one laid by Vajpayee and Musharraf. Today, they both say in so many words, Narendra Modi is the man of the moment. He has a historic opportunity to do what for whatever reason Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh could not. He can be the man of the moment, for he has an absolute majority in the Indian Parliament and he has no Advani to pull him back. He overshadows his cabinet where he fears no opposition. There is, of course, the RSS but once Modi makes up his mind and puts his foot down he may very well be able to carry the day for India. As for Pakistan, Kasuri’s view is that the military and the ISI too have come a long way from the time of Ayub and Zia and, if both India and Pakistan move with a spirit of give and take, a settlement to the satisfaction of both is feasible. That is a bit tricky and difficult to take on its face value because even if America, UK and Russia fell in line, will it be as easy for Pakistan to bring over China too to endorse such a peace plan for China may then very well want an overall tripartite border settlement!

The third book—TV Rajeswar’s—in the list above is rather mundane: a mere narrative of the life and career of a high-level spook who seems to have been happier in the role of VIP security chief than as the head of a national intelligence outfit. There is little that he tells that is not already known to those who were around when the events he narrates took place such as the Emergency, Operation Blue Star, the Samba case and so on. There are hardly any new observations on men or events, or any moving insights into crucial affairs of the times. One chapter, however, everyone will find of considerable interest is the one wherein Rajeswar draws fascinating sketches of his six predecessor DIBs or Directors of the Intelligence Bureau. This is the most deftly written, perceptive and amusing passage in the entire book. It will certainly delight the IB and R&AW chaps—past, present and future. It would be a good idea if every officer of that level left behind a sketch of his notable predecessors and noticeable juniors.

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